Jonathan Carlson, executive director of Self-Help Inc., the fuel assistance agency, said unprecedented numbers of people are seeking fuel assistance even before the application period opens.
It may be summer outside but the winter heating season will be here before we know it — and folks are worried how much they will pay to stay warm during the cold weather.
“People are petrified,” said Jonathan Carlson, executive director of Self-Help Inc., the fuel-assistance agency for the Brockton area.
“It is July and everyone is talking about the high cost of fuel,” he said.
Carlson said unprecedented numbers of people are seeking fuel assistance even before the application period opens.
With record-high oil prices and an anticipated maximum benefit level of $500 — less than half last year’s total benefit — to those eligible for fuel assistance, he predicts a tough winter ahead.
On Monday, heating oil prices were at the lowest point since May, but Fred Niccoli of Niccoli Oil, a Brockton discount full-service oil company offering oil at $4.09 a gallon, said, “Nobody really knows where this is going or where this is going to end.
“There’s been a 30-cent reduction in price in the last 10 days,” Niccoli said. “We don’t know if it’s going up again or what, there’s no way to tell if it’s going up or down.”
But there’s no doubt it will cost more to heat your home in the coming winter months, said Phil Lindsay, oil program director for MassEnergy, a non-profit agency that advocates and acts for consumers.
On average, consumers paid $3.50 a gallon for heating oil last winter, according to Lindsay. The price of oil crossed the $4 mark in May and hasn’t gone back, he said. In general, he said, oil companies are basing customer’s budgets on $4.50 to $5 a gallon for this coming winter.
Though natural gas was less expensive than oil last year, Lindsay said consumers should expect a hike of “40 to 50 percent” in the fall.
“What happens to people in heating oil is what happens to natural gas in the coming year,” Lindsay said.
He also predicted a “double-digit” hike in the cost of electricity in coming months, though he said increased electricity prices would not reach those of natural gas.
Gov. Deval Patrick and House and Senate leaders said last week they are creating a task force with five Cabinet secretaries and four members of the Legislature that will offer public recommendations on energy costs within 60 days.
The price of home heating oil in New England has jumped 87 percent since the winter of 2005-2006. It will cost more than $3,750 to heat the average Massachusetts household with oil next winter. That’s up from $1,800 two winters ago.
As consumers look to cut winter heating costs, some are considering conversions to natural gas while others are looking at alternative sources, including wood or pellet stoves.
The concern extends beyond homeowners to businesses, according to Mary Waldron, executive director of Brockton’s 21st Century Corp.
“We’re getting requests from businesses looking to change from oil to gas,” said Waldron, who is doing research for several city businesses.
Lindsay said conversion should only be considered if a heating system needs to be replaced. Otherwise, he said, the money is better spent on conservation efforts — insulation, window replacements, weather-stripping and other measures.
“That’s the best investment no matter what fuel source you use,” he said.
Elaine Allegrini can be reached at email@example.com.